May 6, 2013

Wenatchee Museum Layout, Train Disasters, and a Mountain Ghost Town

The Wenatchee Washington Museum features a layout profiling some of the history - and disasters - involving the railway and the industry of central Washington State.

Wenatchee was an important city for the Great Northern as a generator of produce traffic as the Apple Capital of the World and a key division point for their Northwest network. The city is located 100 miles east of Seattle and 170 miles west of Spokane.
  Situated along the mighty Columbia River; to the west are the Cascade Mountains where severe grades had to be overcome by the Great Northern.
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The
first attempt to cross the Cascade Mountain range was a 'switch back' system that used steam engines to 'see saw' their way back-and-forth, slowly, up and over the Cascade mountain range.  This crude approach was inexpensive to construct, but ultimately proved unsatisfactory.  A 2 mile tunnel with electric overhead was installed to eliminate the majority of the switchbacks and make the crossing of the range more efficient.   On the western end of this tunnel, the small stop of Wellington was created.

In 1910, well before auto emissions could be used as an excuse for every change in the weather, Mother Nature took out its
fury on the intrusion of man into its domain.   At Wellington  (Later renamed Tye, and abandoned) where the snow was falling at a foot a day - and despite the best efforts of the train crews and their steam-powered rotary snow plows - two passenger trains became trapped at the top of the grade.  Unfortunately, when the avalanche came, it took out the town, the locomotives, cars, and the lives of 100 passengers and workers (this story is well documented in the excellent book "White Cascade" which is available on Amazon).
Following this disaster, the GN built the 8 mile Cascade tunnel to avoid the snow slides and severe grades. The Wenatchee Historical Society has a model to show what it was like 100 years ago.
 
An early steam engine makes its way past the old switch backs that were hundreds of feet in higher elevation than the new 2 mile Cascade Tunnel.  More elevation means a lot more snow to deal with in  the winter. Most of the trees were used to build the trestles and snow sheds so watch out!
 
On the opposite ( east ) end of the Cascade Tunnel was Cascade yard . It was not much of a yard but it had enough room for several sidings to hold trains waiting their turn to go west into the tunnel.
 
Here is where the snow slides hit at Wellington in February 1910. It snowed for several days at 1 foot of snow per hour soon the hillsides were ready to slide and into this tiny hamlet of civilization. Passenger cars, electric box motors, work cars, rotary plows, steam engines. Anything and everything including the hotel, crew quarters, etc.... Some of the passengers wanted to be backed into the tunnel but the officials said no...it would be uncomfortable (smoke inhalation)!  There is a summer road that goes to this spot as a State Park with relevant information for you to understand. The concrete snow sheds are still there.
 
Martin Creek tunnel was several miles west of Wellington and they needed to reduce altitude so many tunnels and bridges were needed to get lower into the valley. When I first saw this layout some 20 years ago I was impressed with the scenery and it encouraged me to do it as well.
 
19 years later the GN finished the 8 mile tunnel at great expense and here at the west portal (used by BNSF and Amtrak today ) we see the steam engine on the old right of way and the diesels coming out of the new 8 mile tunnel. You can drive near this spot and see for yourself.
The Wenatchee Museum is easy to find in the middle of downtown Wenatchee and I encourage you to see it for yourself.

1 comment:

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